Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Review: The Amber Spyglass

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
His Dark Materials # 3
Published September 9th, 2003 by Laurel Leaf

In the astonishing finale to the His Dark Materials trilogy, Lyra and Will are in unspeakable danger. With help from Iorek Byrnison the armored bear and two tiny Gallivespian spies, they must journey to a dank and gray-lit world where no living soul has ever gone.
All the while, Dr. Mary Malone builds a magnificent Amber Spyglass. An assassin hunts her down, & Lord Asriel, with a troop of shining angels, fights his mighty rebellion, in a battle of strange allies—& shocking sacrifice.

As war rages & Dust drains from the sky, the fate of the living—& the dead—finally comes to depend on two children & the simple truth of one simple story.
The Amber Spyglass is the third and final book in the 'His Dark Materials' (or The Golden Compass) trilogy.  As a whole, this series has so many things that appeal to me - I'd really enjoyed book one, The Golden Compass and had high hopes for the series.  Book two, The Subtle Knife introduced appealing new characters, but it became obvious that the series was building up to be a retelling of a very popular biblical story - which had left me with very mixed feelings about what I was expecting out of the story as a whole. All these factors added up with me taking a prolonged break from the series between books 2 & 3 - almost an entire year as a matter of fact!  I just really wanted to go into The Amber Spyglass prepared for the worst (preachy- religion speak *ahem*, *cough* *last two Narnia books* *splutter*...oh my, excuse me! So yeah,  I knew I needed to be in the right frame of mind if I wanted to be able to enjoy it in any way.

**The review is spoiler-free**

So, The Amber Spyglass picks up right where The Subtle Knife left off, with Lyra & Will separated and both in their fair share of danger, though Lyra is decidedly worst off.  As Will works hard to make his way back to Lyra to save her, powerful forces are at play and the sheer fabric of the world(s) around them seem to be coming apart around them.  Enemies are closing in on all sides and it's hard to tell who the allies are.   Most the previous characters from books 1 and 2 return for book 3 so there are a lot of players on the field here. There is also a LOT of things going on simultaneously throughout the book -  I mean, this book is STACKED with action and information, much of it new which is a rare thing in a final book to see SO many new elements being brought in.   The Amber Spyglass especially felt a lot more complex and mature than the other previous installments were, but it still fit in with the general tone of it's predecessors.   Now that I'd made my peace with overall direction of the story, I found that I was able to enjoy the ride a bit more too.

One of the best parts of this story is the magical instruments featured/used - like the Golden Compass itself, the Subtle Knife and in this specific book, the Amber Spyglass.  They are just absolutely brilliantly thought out, original & dead practical.  My personal favorite is Lyra's Compass which she makes a bit more use of this time around than she did in book 2.  Will's knife is another amazing tool but it's also really scary when you think of it o_O  If you're like me and you get really excited with clever magical tools and items than this series definitely delivers.

Another highlight in the His Dark Materials series are the characters themselves. I love how real they all feel;  flawed and oh so human while simultaneously being admirable or even heroic.  All the characters here are very readable,  I loved getting to know them all - Will & Lyra being obvious standouts.  Lyra was always memorable since the start of the series but she's grown and she's been through so much...seen so many things, but through it all she manages to stay true to her character.   Will made a wonderful addition in book 2 he continued to impress in The Amber Spyglass - he's strong, brave and he balances out Lyra's fire & grit nicely. I'd say I connected with both of the equally this time around :)   The polar bear Iorek Byrnison, the witch Seraphina Pekkala, Mary, Mrs Coulter & Lord Asriel all return as well and  as supporting characters none of them disappoint; each one has an important role to play.

My main complaint with The Amber Spyglass is the sheer volume of it's content.  Now I like big books (and I can not lie) but this read like it was overstuffed.   A lot of new elements and twists were being brought in and it weighed the plot down for me, like it was a chore to get through some parts more than anything...especially in the middle parts of the book.  There were numerous info-dumps; sometimes I just had to put the book down because thinking of all the complex twists and turns that were going on all at once made my head hurt.  Once we got to the real crux of the plot, I felt a lot more compelled to read on and find out how everything was going to go down. Even despite the heavy basis and parallels in on a well-known Christian story, I really appreciated Philip Pullman's take on things.  I had been braced for the C.S. Lewis route of a completely traumatizing ending to a sermonizing series, even though I'd heard Pullman himself refer to this as his answer to Narnia... but I just didn't trust him guys!  What if his 'answer' was just as stuffy?!    Thankfully, Pullman offered up surprisingly poignant prose and a lighter take on this kind of morality tale, the outcome to me was much more satisfying (not to mention less jarring) than the ending of Narnia.   Had I known how the story would play out, I might have been more generous with my rating of book 2 (3 stars) so I'd need to re-read the series eventually to be sure.  While some parts of The Amber Spyglass did drag or read a bit more heavily than I'd liked, overall I still think it was a bit superior to The Subtle Knife - though neither fully live up to The Golden Compass, so...
My rating: My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

The Complete Trilogy - I love the use of Gold, Silver & Bronze tones !


  1. This for me was a very exciting trilogy. The concepts introduced were all so unique to me. I read it a long time ago, just out of high school and remember savoring the read, on the edge of my seat wondering what was going to happen. I really like the daimon concept, too.

    1. It was definitely exciting and you're right: the concepts are TRULY innovative!! (love the daimons too!) I wish I'd read it when I was younger though :)

  2. I really loved this trilogy, I read it when I was in 7th grade and adored it. It was so different and I still want a daimon. I'm glad I'm not the only person who found the last Narnia books way too much..and that ending made me want to through the book across the room.

    1. I think I would have loved this series if I read it in high school!! I agree on the unique factor and having a daimon would be AWESOME :D

      PS-OMG @ the last Narnia, ugh I was so let down. I though I was ready for it and it still annoyed me SO much. Ugh!

  3. It's been soooo long since I've read this series. Like, over a decade. It's one of my top favourite series though and I would love to reread it sometime. I'd be really curious to see if I like it just as much or if I get anything more out of it the second read through. Honestly, I have no idea what popular biblical story this was a retelling of (I've lived a very secular life) so that part would still be lost on me in a reread. But I would SO love to return to the brilliant world Phillip Pullman has created - LOVE the creative magical objects and the amazing characters, as well! Anyways, it was really interesting reading your thoughts on this versus Narnia! Awesome review.

    1. See I really wish I'd discovered these when I was younger too! I have a feeling I'd have loved it a lot more (and probably not know about the biblical references either lol) I have a feeling I'll definitely return to the world and these books though, now that I know what to expect...because the magical objects and characters are totally worth a revisit :) Thanks for the fab comment lady :D


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